Book review: Vodka Doesn’t Freeze by Leah Giarratano

Vodka  Vodka Doesn’t Freeze by Leah Giarratano (Bantam)

A novel bought to me by the slow boat from Australia, sent
on its way by the generous Bernadette Inoz (;-) ), whose blog Reactions to
Reading
is essential for anyone addicted to excellent book reviews.

Leah Giarrantano’s debut novel is a very readable novel on a
harrowing topic – paedophilia. Jill Jackson of the homicide department of the
Sydney police force is a driven woman ever since she was kidnapped and sexually
abused as a young girl. She exercises and washes obsessively, and can’t eat a
meal, hence she’s very thin. She does not like men at all, and has previously
fallen foul of a sexist senior cop by busting a biker drug-dealing gang – because
the cop’s brother was one of the criminals. She is attracted to her partner
Scott, though, which causes her quite a bit of confusion.

Jill finds herself investigating the murder of a man whose
body is discovered near a children’s swimming area. It soon transpires that the
victim was a paedophile. Although few of Jill’s fellow-detectives have any
sympathy for the victim, Jill, representing the archetypal “pure” cop common to
detective fiction, is determined to catch the perpetrator. Matters become
complicated when Jill herself finds herself in danger as a direct result of her
investigation – more than once.

As well as the crime plot, the book also covers many issues
concerning child abuse and its effect on those not only who experienced it but
on those who treat or help the victims. The bleak message seems to be that
there is no way out, and that the dark side of human nature is everywhere
(there are very few characters or incidents in this book that don’t reveal some
unsavoury fact about someone).  Yet, without
wishing to reveal too much about the details, the classic themes of degradation
and redemption figure for one of the characters, leaving the door wide open for various future directions.

As a first novel, Vodka Doesn’t Freeze is confident and full of energy, setting the scene for themes to be explored in more detail – the sexist,
possibly corrupt police team; Jill’s family dynamics; and the relationship
between Jill and her partner.  It is also
admirable in the way that it does not shirk from addressing quite horrible
issues, in a way that is not salacious in the least. Where it does not work
quite so well is in the prosaic writing style that renders most of the characters as sketches rather than as people with whom the reader can feel an emotional connection. The author has written a pacy,
cracking and very dark book, and has provided herself with plenty of room for
development of her characters and their situations. All in all, an assured and fascinating first novel, with heaps of future potential.

Read other reviews of this novel at: Reactions to Reading; View from the Blue House; Mysteries in Paradise; Crime Down Under.

Publisher website.

6 thoughts on “Book review: Vodka Doesn’t Freeze by Leah Giarratano

  1. I started reading the next book in the series, Black Ice, some time ago, but I had to put it down as I found it very dark. I am certainly going to finish it at some point as it is both interesting and captivating, but sometimes a book just hits me too hard and I have to choose something lighter.

  2. Maxine – As always, a lovely review. You’ve touched on such an important issue, too: how to treat dark, disturbing issues without being gratuitous. That’s not an easy balance to strike, especially if there’s also to be a focus on the investigation, etc.. You always give me a great deal to think about, Maxine; little wonder I pop in whenever you post : ).

  3. Thank you so much Dorte and Margot. Your encouragement and support mean a great deal to me, thank you!

  4. Nice review Maxine. I read and really enjoyed one of Giarratano’s later novels, BLACK ICE, earlier this year (that was more about drugs and drug addiction, and how it can affect those at all points on the socio-economic scale).

  5. I’m sure someone somewhere has put this more sensibly but I do often think that a book is a combination of the writer’s thoughts and the reader’s experiences. I can remember identifying with Jill very much the first time I read her. Not that I have anything remotely so dramataic in my own history I assure you but the whole ‘having to get through each day regardless of how hard it is’ thing that she went through really hit home with me at the time and I was quite motivated by seeing her resilience in the face of what even I can admit was a ridiculous number of dangerous situations. I also think the dark tone of the story really suited my mood then too. I suspect I’d have had a quite different reaction to the book if I’d read it a year earlier or a couple of years later. Timing is everything?
    ‘Nuff rambling, I’m glad you didn’t hate it (I did kind of worry that you might, I actually thought Black Ice might be more your cup of tea but I’ve no idea what happened to my copy of that one – loaned somewhere I think).

  6. thanks Bernadette – I thought the character of Jill very interesting too, and I identified with her a lot (though, sadly in my case, not all the excercising and not eating!). I think it’s a highly promising first novel and will definitely be reading more – including Black Ice. I agree about timing, I have found certain books have really resonated with me because of a particular situation at the time, eg one of Eliz George’s (earlier ones), believe it or not. Dad by William Wharton was another.
    Thanks, Craig, I will be checking out your review when I get around to sampling Black Ice.

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